In Montessori Education, letters are introduced to the children from age 2 and a half years onwards by phonic sounds rather than letter names. Rather than introducing the child in alphabetical order the letters, the child is introduced in an order that allows them to make many words with the letters he or she has learned. Thus, learning the visual appearance of each letter in English and the sounds that each letter makes is an essential beginning step towards literacy. In the Montessori approach, we do a huge array of spoken language activities with the children to prepare them for writing and reading.
Sandpaper Letters is an excellent material designed by Dr. Maria Montessori to introduce alphabet writing and sounds (or beginner’s phonics) to young children. When teaching the child the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, we first start with the vowels and then the consonants, however it is not necessary to finish all the vowels before starting with the consonants. A sound is immediately followed by a word, which is sounded with the emphasis on the focus sound. In the Montessori setting, the three period lesson is important for the children because in each period lesson the child will be able to grasp the concept of the phonic sounds.
The three period lesson Montessori approach is as follows: 1) First period: Associate sight and touch with the sound.- (The teacher gives the child two sandpaper letter cards at a time, starting with ‘i’ and ‘o’. Then, points out the respective sounds to him/her. After each sound, let the child touch the letter immediately, then trace it, guiding the index finger where necessary. The child repeats as many times as he/she wants to. The smooth card beneath the sandpaper acts as a control of error. All the letters are taught using this method.) 2) Second period: Perception. (A child should be able to recognise the letter shapes upon hearing the corresponding sounds. The teacher, pronouncing the sounds, asks the child for specific cards. If a child cannot recognise the sounds, the teacher then will ask him/her to trace again. 3) Third period: Speech. (The child should be able to pronounce the sounds corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. This is evaluated by asking the child to read the various letter cards.)
The objectives with regards to teaching the child the phonic sounds through sandpaper letters are: 1) To develop a kinaesthetic impression of the letter shapes 2) To associate the phonic sounds with the kinaesthetic impression of the letter shapes 3) To develop a visual impression and memory of the letter shape 4) To learn the writing direction of the letter shapes
Tips on how to do the sandpaper letters at home with your child/ children: Prepare a tray with sand/ flour/ rice and guide the child with writing the letters on the tray with two fingers and follow the direction of the letter.
“When a child is learning how to speak, he can hear the component sounds of a word imperfectly, but this does not happen when he is learning the graphic signs corresponding to the individual sounds of a word. He is given a sandpaper letter, which he can see and touch and its corresponding name. This not only fixes the sound which he has heard clearly in the child’s mind, but his hearing of the sound is associated with two other perceptions, the sight and feel of the written sign.” Maria Montessori